Saturday 18 August 2012

Doobie doo, run run run - Roy Ayers Live at Ronnie Scott's

Doobie doo, run run run, doobie doo, run run run...

Roy Ayers provided the soundtrack to some of my happiest times during my late teens and early twenties. A succession of brilliant albums by this maestro vibes player, often featuring terrific and little known guest (usually female) vocalists gave us such masterpieces as Get On Up Get On Down, Don't Stop The Feeling, Can't You See Me, Heat of the Beat (with Wayne Henderson) and of course the jazz-funk anthem - Running Away (Doobie doo, run run run).

I discovered Mr Ayers - originally recording under the name of his band, Roy Ayers Ubiquity - when living in my small home town in the north-east of England in the late 1970's. He seemed the epitome of sophistication with the "of their time" album covers (!), unique vibes sounds and totally cool jazz-funk compositions. I made a weekly pilgrimage to a basement club in Middlesbrough - Mandy's, now long gone - to listen and dance to his music as well as to the dance tracks of Patrice RushenGeorge Duke, Narada Michael Walden and others.

A taxi home was about eight pounds and if I didn't have the money and couldn't get a lift, it was a case of walking the 8 miles or so to Redcar and then paying two pounds for a taxi from there. On one famous occasion, a car pulled up with two people who I had passed when walking and offered me a lift. I got in, asked them why they had left their car so far from anywhere to be told "We've just nicked it". I suddenly discovered a desire to walk every one of those eight miles and got out at a set of traffic lights with a cheery "good night".

But I digress. I saw Mr Ayers perform a few years ago at the Wardrobe in Leeds and to be honest was a little disappointed - not with him, but with the sound. Everything was too loud and the sound distorted. Well that wouldn't happen at Ronnie Scotts and last night the 71 years old (!) vibes maestro was on top form, knocking out a string of his biggest hits, starting with Love Will Bring Us Back Together, then a great version of Can't You See Me which led straight into Running Away. Job already done with serious involvement from the audience - many of whom appeared to be of that certain age - my age - that would have discovered him when I did. 

And there was more to come. Thick and fast we had Evolution, Everybody Loves the Sunshine (with compulsory audience participation), Sweet Tears (which appeared on the NuYorican Soul album from 1997 - another favourite of mine, thanks Roy) and a lengthy medley of other well loved tracks include a much too short version of Don't Stop the Feeling - for me his absolute best track ever. Much clapping, cheering, shouting and stamping resulted in a short version of the cheekily named Kiss Me on My Poo Poo La La, and then it was over.

A bit of a lady killer in his day (check his old vinyl album sleeves on the internet and you'll see what I mean), Ayers was in relaxed mode, demonstrating his musically influenced sense of humour and regularly checking that the audience were enjoying themselves. He was clearly very happy to be playing this most famous of venues and paid tribute to Ronnie Scott, saying he had founded the most well known jazz club in the world.

He may be 71 but he can still play those vibes as well as back in my basement bar days and there is still no-one to beat him. There was much interplay between him and the band, especially the vocal versus sax joust that he had with Ray Gaskins Junior. Aside from Ayers, Gaskins was the start of the show, squeezing some incredible notes from the sax and playing pretty good keyboards too. Also extensively featured was vocalist John Presley (no relation as far as I know) who both gave vocal support to the star of the show and was showcased on a new (to me) ballad - You Got It.

Ronnie Scotts was packed to hear this jazz-funk legend and the famous "Full House" sign has been displayed for each of the three evenings of his short residency so far. No doubt tonight (Saturday) - the final night will be the same. Two shows last night, two more tonight and then flying back to New York tomorrow for more concerts. Come back soon.

Oh, and if anyone with influence ever reads this, please can we have Roy's delicious 1979 album No Stranger to Love released as a CD please? Thanks very much.

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